Adam's House Of Whiskey And Jass Music

It's been a long time since I updated - I know. Fear not readers - this blog is still alive and kicking. So vacation is over. We're back in the school grind once again, which is interesting if you own a blog because of all the random hits coming in from frenzied students on some random last-minute research spree. Apparently, I've now become an "information source" (so all appropriations of information contained within this site must be formally cited) on turn-of-the century psychologists, along with some "Continental" (not sure if that's the correct terminology...) philosophers thanks to Jung (i.e. Arendt, Hegel, Locke). I've also learned that misspelling commonly misspelled words is an extremely good way to find a market niche as a struggling blogger, since search engines don't correct spelling automatically in their searches, only suggest alternattive spellings (I'll probably get ten additional hits for that misspelling alone.)

I've gotten into listening to jazz again (jass - it's authentic Creole, and it will score you some bonus hits -- pub ), and might begin to play it again somewhat seriously, which means playing with the express goal of getting better, not just to have fun. I took out a whole bunch of jazz CD's from the public library to blatantly illegally burn them onto my computer. Which reminds me of the following public service announcement: libraries are quite amazing and everyone should use them instead of bookstores. But back to the message. I picked up some Dizzy Gillespie big band, Dave Brubeck, and Wynton Marsalis. Anyone who knows anything about my personal opinions knows that picking up a Wynton ( how about 'Winton' - there's no standard spelling for "Wynton" anyway right?) Marsalis CD strongly violates my musical ethic, because Wynton is an annoying person, at least when he's speaking.

Among some of the more annoying things he has done was his work as the main musician interviewee and designated "creative consultant" for the PBS Ken Burns Jazz series, which ended up biasing the whole thing towards a) black people b) people who have never experimented with electronic instruments c) himself. Let's be fair. Black people should obviously get the large majority of the coverage in a documentary on the origin of jazz, since their cultural contribution is undoubtedly more than fifty percent of the art form. However, many whites made great contributions to jazz, including George Gershwin, Bill Evans, and Chick Corea (who's actually Hispanic...), although these greats were hardly mentioned. The project was essentially a statement on black oppression and slavery, which is a good and important message to emphasize in a development on the origins of jazz, but not as much as they did. On many occasions, jazz was referred to as "great black music," or something to that effect. I know this is a Ken Burn's documentary; therefore it is dumbed down a little bit. In fact I really wouldn't care if it were not for the fact that this kind of thinking is entirely consistent with Marsalis's very outspoken view of jazz as an ethnically supremacist music, if one can use the term.

Marsalis has cast himself as the protector and guardian of pure jazz, which is floundering amid all the experimentation with unholy forms of music and white people (Ok, I'm exaggerating the last part a little.. On numerous occasions in the documentary, he literally says only black people can play jazz. He routinely regards himself and possibly also his brothers as the greatest hope jazz has to "stay alive" in this terrible age of crisis. He discards entire branches of development in jazz as illegitimate.  Hence his personal and professional vendetta against Herbie Hancock, the far superior musician and artist, and his getting less than a minute coverage in the documentary. The great thing though is that, despite his tendency to deviate from orthodox jazz at times, at the end of the day Herbie Hancock is the one who has written scores of enduring jazz standards. Wynton is a good musician, great performer, questionable commentator, but he has contributed little to the art form creatively. In fact, even his albums are virtual recyclings of other musicians' arrangements of various songs.

The truth is he really has become, more than many other superior musicians, the face and voice of contemporary jazz, and he has filled the role quite effectively. At first glance it seems odd that someone with only modest contributions to jazz at best has arrived as it's most prominent public figure. But there are a few reasons I can think of for why this is:

  • The first explanation comes from an observation that I've made repeatedly over time while playing with jazz musicians: for some reason, as a breed, jazz musicians are seriously inarticulate. I have no idea why this is. Wynton is highly verbal, articulate, and erudite, so he fills the void for spokesmen left in jazz quite nicely.
  • The second is that good musicians would rather spend their time working on their art than talking about it. I'm sure he still gets some playing in there, but it's true that Marsalis has a kind of second job of professional spokesman for jazz. Other musicians either have different priorities or don't see that as the role for a musician.
  • The third explanation is that jazz has deteriorated in some sense to the point where so little is going on creatively that a guy who talks a lot about how great jazz used to be becomes the modern day prophet. This is possible.
One other major thing that Wynton has going in his favor is his family name, of course. His father and several siblings are all respectable musicians and jazz figures in their own right. His brother the saxophonist Branford, is at least as good a musician in my opinion, and almost as well-known.

Anyway, I say all this because I just listened to a few of Wynton's latest CD's, and can recognize for the first time that he is really good. He's not very original, and doesn't write many good songs from what I can see, but his technical and musical skils are considerable. His music is probably the best example of what good contemporary jazz that hasn't changed style or done anything innovative in the last forty years should sound like. There's something about straightforward jazz with no frills that's easy on the ears and appealing. He definitely has something to teach about how to play so it's listenable.

...As a fairly bizarre aside, has anyone ever noticed how artists are always in the most unnatural poses on the cover of albums? It's like, they're either wearing absurdly reflective glasses and staring out into the distance in some direction, or looking at the camera with their arms in the most contorted, unnatural position, or something. If I ever made an album, I would just be staring right into the camera and smiling. Like Pee Wee Herman, but one level more cool. But it's not nearly as strange as most of the other album covers out there, if you really look at it...

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